NASA and Boeing say Starliner astronauts ‘are not stranded,’ but will be on the ISS for a few more weeks

NASA and Boeing plan to spend the next few weeks conducting tests on the ground to better understand problems with the Starliner spacecraft’s thrusters before allowing its crew to fly back to Earth. But the officials insisted Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aren’t “locked up” on the International Space Station Friday afternoon. “We’re in no rush to get home,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner docked with the ISS from June 6 for a total of 10 days of flight testing. But when approaching the orbiting laboratory the craft faced problems with five thrusters and a known helium leak appeared to have worsened. NASA and Boeing have since been working together to assess the problems. On Friday, representatives of the two said they had not yet set a date for the return flight and would instead wait until ground tests were completed and all analyzes were run. The first thrust test, which will be held at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, is expected to begin on Tuesday.

Initially, it was reported that the Starliner would only be able to stay on the ISS for a maximum of 45 days due to battery limitations, but Stich said during the conference that those batteries had been recharged by the space station, so that time could be extended. “I want to make it clear that Butch and Suni are not stranded in space,” Stich said. “Our plan is to continue to bring them back on the Starliner and bring them home at the appropriate time.”

Officials said the Starliner is performing well while docked, and the craft can still be used as a lifeboat to bring astronauts home in an emergency. Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, echoed Stich’s comments, saying, “We’re not stuck on the ISS, the crew is in no danger, and there’s no risk when we decide to bring Suni and Butch. Come back to earth.”

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